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1993 - PMQT 14th January 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 14th January 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Wareing : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 January.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Wareing : Does the Prime Minister agree that although the action against Saddam Hussein was thoroughly justified, similar military action in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina could not be so justified? Will he give a categorical assurance that no British service man's life will be put at risk by fighting on one side or the other of that conflict, because such a conflict would lead to a general conflagration in the area? Should not the message from the House now be : remember Sarajevo, 1914?

The Prime Minister : The situation in Bosnia presents special difficulties and is quite different, as the hon. Gentleman said. He will know the action that we have taken : we have imposed an arms embargo, sanctions and a no-fly zone which has been made effective. Progress has been made in the peace talks in Geneva--not enough, but progress has been made--and we will take further measures if we have to. As the hon. Gentleman may know, European Community Foreign Ministers agreed yesterday to work on measures leading to Serbia's total diplomatic isolation. The European Community also agreed on the need for an international criminal court and will support that at the United Nations.


Q2. Mr. Pickles : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 January.

The Prime Minister : I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Pickles : In his busy schedule today, does my right hon. Friend have any plans to commemorate the centenary of the foundation of the Independent Labour party? If so, what advice does he offer as the most appropriate way to mark this event?

The Prime Minister : I did not have it in mind to do so, but perhaps we might hold a wake.

Mr. John Smith : To return to the Prime Minister's actual responsibilities, does the right hon. Gentleman believe that it is right that taxpayers' money should be used to pay the legal fees incurred by a Minister in connection with his own private affairs?

The Prime Minister : It is uncharacteristic of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to deal in innuendo. The matter to which he refers has been dealt with by Sir John Bourn, an independent report has been commissioned and the answer is quite clear : no impropriety occurred.

Mr. Smith : Does not the Prime Minister even understand the distinction between a public duty and a private concern? In this case, is not it clear that the Chancellor instructed solicitors because of his decision to rent his own property to a tenant for his own profit? Is not it clear from the report to which the Prime Minister refers that the Chancellor instructed solicitors without referring the matter to a Government legal adviser? If property was involved, should not the Chancellor be asked to repay the money now?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman may wish to reflect on and withdraw those remarks. It is uncharacteristically cheap of him to have raised the matter in this fashion. The report fully exonerates the Treasury on the central questions : was it right to make the payment and were any rules breached? Sir John Bourn, who carried out the inquiry, has no criticism on either point. He also confirms that the Chancellor did not ask for assistance and makes no criticism of my right hon. Friend's actions.

Mr. Smith : Does the Prime Minister understand that it is a matter not of innuendo but of public policy on whether taxpayers' money should be used to finance the private legal affairs of a Minister? If the Prime Minister is resting on the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, which has not yet been considered by the Public Accounts Committee, will he explain why, as is clear from the report, the whole matter was concealed under a heading called

"Expenditure on economic, financial and related administration", which included the expenses of pay review bodies and the cost of the BCCI inquiry? Was not there an attempt to hide this matter from the public and from scrutiny here?

The Prime Minister rose --

Hon. Members : Answer!

Madam Speaker : Order. It is pointless the House shouting "answer" ; the Prime Minister is at the Dispatch Box doing just that.

The Prime Minister : It says a great deal about the Leader of the Opposition that, the day after our service men have been in action in Iraq and when we have troops in Bosnia, he has raised this matter in the House. I repeat, as he sits smiling smugly, that the Chancellor did not receive assistance. The Treasury broke no accounting rules and in the absence of the rules it was appropriate that judgment should be exercised by two accounting officers. That has been independently examined. There is no criticism of that judgment and if he had a shred of self-respect the right hon. and learned Gentleman would withdraw those remarks.

Mr. Butterfill : Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Aim Aviation of Bournemouth, which has been so successful in winning export orders in the United States, the far east and Europe that it has had to acquire a new factory at Wallisdown in my constituency? Will he join me in wishing it every success in seeking new orders, which it undoubtedly will be able to do under the policies of the Government?

The Prime Minister : I am happy to do that and I am delighted to hear of this export success. There is no doubt that our exports have been on a rising trend. Equally, there is no doubt that we have the right economic fundamentals to encourage exporting in the future.

Mr. Boyce : What a load of nonsense.

The Prime Minister : It is vital that we do so for our jobs and prosperity. We understand that, even if the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Boyce) understands nothing.


Q3. Mr. Livingstone : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 January.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Livingstone : Does the Prime Minister accept that the vigour with which the Government have ensured that Iraq complies with the United Nations resolutions is not repeated when ensuring that other nations such as India comply with United Nations resolutions on Kashmir or China with United Nations resolutions on Tibet? Is he aware that, to many people in the world, it seems that we pursue United Nations resolutions with vigour only when they refer to endangered western oil interests?

The Prime Minister : I think the hon. Gentleman knows better than that. This country has a better record of supporting United Nations resolutions than almost any country that he can name.

In the case of the difficulties with Iraq, there was a clear violation and invasion of a neighbouring country and an attempt to capture both that neighbouring country and probably to move on further down the Gulf. Recently there have been deliberate attempts of genocide both in the north and south of Iraq. The whole of the hon. Gentleman's background suggests that he should be supporting the Government in preventing that genocide.

Mr. Bill Walker : My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Cabinet will shortly be looking at proposals for the future of the naval dockyards. He will be aware of the political sensitivity that applies to both naval dockyards. Will he assure me and the House that the decision, when made, will be based upon equal opportunities for both dockyards and that we will be comparing apples with apples so that there is no question of saying afterwards that the decision was arrived at other than properly and honourably?

The Prime Minister : I can assure my hon. Friend that every relevant factor will be taken into account.


Q4. Mr. Martyn Jones : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 January.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Jones : Will the Prime Minister find time today to pass on the condolences of everyone in the House to the family and friends of my constituent, Lance Corporal Edwards, who was killed yesterday bravely delivering aid to Bosnia? Will the Prime Minister tell the House what measures he will be taking to ensure that the troops performing this dangerous role have the firepower and intelligence back-up to prevent further casualties?

The Prime Minister : The whole House will agree with what the hon. Gentleman had to say about his constituent. He was a very brave man and there is no doubt that he gave his life to save the lives of many other people who would have died, but for actions of Lance Corporal Edwards and those of his colleagues.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will be making a statement after questions which will be directly germane to the hon. Gentleman's question.


Q5. Mr. David Martin : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 January.

The Prime Minister : I refer my hon. Friend to the reply I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Martin : Is my right hon. Friend aware that since he visited St. Mary's hospital in Portsmouth, it, with Queen Alexandra's, has been approved for trust status? Remembering all the virulent criticisms levelled at trust hospitals by the Opposition parties, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he has seen the reports in today's papers that even the official Front-Bench spokesman of the Labour party now sees the sense in our reforms? Is there joy in Downing street over one sinner that repenteth?

The Prime Minister : There is hardly likely to be joy over that particular sinner. But I can certainly confirm to my hon. Friend that I have seen the report. The fact is that the Labour party has no agenda of its own. Conservatism has won the arguments on health and will continue to win them. I well remember what the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) said :

"I give this historic pledge that the hospital that serves my constituents will opt out over my dead body."

I hope that the hon. Member does not live to regret that pledge. No doubt if he is ill his local trust hospital will treat him.

Mr. Wigley : Will the Prime Minister find time today to consider the representations that have been made over a number of months by disablement organisations about the need for anti-discrimination legislation? As he once had ministerial responsibility for disabled people and bearing in mind the fact that a Bill has passed through the House of Lords, will the Prime Minister find time for such legislation to go on the statute book in this parliamentary year?

The Prime Minister : This is a technical and difficult matter, as the hon. Gentleman knows as well as anyone in the House, but I will look at the points he raised and discuss them with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security.


Worcester

Q6. Mr. Luff : To ask the Prime Minister when he next plans to pay an official visit to Worcester.

The Prime Minister : I am at present making plans for a series of visits to all parts of the country and I hope to include Worcester among them.

Mr. Luff : Is my right hon. Friend aware that if he were to visit Worcester, he would encounter very great admiration for the skills and bravery of our armed forces, both in Bosnia and the Gulf? Is he also aware that he would encounter great local anger at the inability of the Labour- controlled local council to live within its means and at its failed gamble that it would be bailed out by an incoming Labour Government, as a result of which it is resorting to desperate measures to balance the books, including the sale of much-loved public open spaces?

The Prime Minister : I believe that a number of people may well have gambled on a Labour victory at the last election. I am bound to say that it was always likely to be a poor bet. I quite understand the way my hon. Friend feels about the Labour council in Worcester--many people around the country feel the same about other Labour councils. It is the charge payers of Worcester who will have to pick up the bill for the Labour council's actions and I hope that they will remember that when the local council elections come along.


Engagements

Q7. Mr. Vaz : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 January.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Vaz : The Prime Minister may recall that on 14 March 1991 I met him to discuss the case of my constituent, John Hall, who was dying of leukaemia, an illness which he contracted while serving on Christmas island. He also knows that John Hall subsequently died on 3 June last year in the royal infirmary in Leicester. The House rightly honours those who serve this country. Will the Prime Minister join me and others in honouring the memory and selfless devotion of the British nuclear test veterans and pay them and their families the compensation which they so richly deserve?

The Prime Minister : I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in honouring all our veterans, whether those veterans or others. He will know that the question of compensation and whether it is due for the reasons he set out is being examined at this moment.